Article featured on Arkansas Surgical Hospital
Summer still has time left, and everyone is looking forward to getting outside and being more active. If you suffer from joint pain due to arthritis or injuries, it’s essential to follow a few safety tips to ensure you don’t aggravate your joints. Exercising with arthritis is vital to maintaining joint health and mobility, but it must be done safely. If you overdo things, your joint pain can flare up and put you back on the couch or in your doctor’s office.
Can I Exercise with Joint Pain?
Don’t hesitate to exercise because of joint pain. Arthritis does not have to stop you from living a healthy, active life! Not only can proper exercise help alleviate joint pain over time, but it can lead to several other benefits, including:
- Improving your flexibility and muscle strength, which can take some of the strain off your arthritic joints
- Improving your cardiac health
- Losing weight
- Increasing the level of endorphins in your system, which contributes to feelings of well-being while reducing pain perception
Low-impact exercise programs are the best option for anyone with arthritis. These activities provide a good workout without overly stressing the joints. The risks of overuse, overextension, and inflammation are much lower if you opt for low-impact exercise that doesn’t put too much pressure on the joints.
What Are Some Low-Impact Exercise Options?
There are a few different types of low-impact exercise you can try, and they vary depending on your goals and preferences.
Aerobic exercise focuses on improving your endurance and cardiovascular health. Some low-impact aerobic exercises include bicycling, swimming, elliptical machines, yoga, and kayaking or rowing. You can also find low-impact aerobic exercise routines online and at your local gym.
While aerobic exercise raises your heart rate and makes you break a sweat, it doesn’t jar the joints. Twenty minutes to a half-hour of aerobic or endurance exercise three times a week is a good baseline. If you’re just starting out, you can try splitting your exercises into ten-minute increments.
Range-of-motion exercise is all about flexibility and maintaining safe, healthy joint motion. Dance, yoga, tai chi, and programs focusing on fully extending your joints can help maintain flexibility and alleviate joint stiffness. If you have a physical therapist, they can recommend range-of-motion exercises you can do at home. You can safely do range-of-motion exercises every day. Aim for at least every other day for the best results.
Strengthening exercise is focused on building and maintaining muscle strength. The stronger the muscles in and around your arthritic joints become, the more support your joints will have, helping protect them from damage.
Weightlifting (within reasonable boundaries) and resistance exercises will make you stronger while improving your overall health. Remember that you must allow your muscles and joints to rest and recover, so don’t do strength training every day—every other day is enough. Always stop if your joint becomes inflamed or you feel a sudden, sharp pain.
Tips & Tricks for Exercising with Arthritis
Any time you exercise, it is important to keep safety in mind. This is even more important if you have arthritis and run the risk of inflammation, pain, or injury.
Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind when exercising with arthritis:
- Look for low-impact exercises online. You’ll find step-by-step instructions and videos geared toward those exercising with arthritis.
- Workouts done in water are less stressful to your joints. You can find water aerobics classes at many gyms and health clubs.
- Not sure if the exercise you’re considering is low-impact? Use this as a general rule of thumb: if at least one of your feet is on the ground at all times, it’s low-impact. For example, walking is low-impact, but running is not.
- Invest in supportive athletic shoes appropriate for your chosen activities to reduce the chance of injury.
- Always consult with your doctor before beginning any low-impact exercise. Follow their recommendations about the frequency and intensity of your workouts.
- Do not exercise when you are suffering from an arthritis flare-up. This can increase pain and inflammation.
- Apply heat before exercising to relax the joints. Warm towels or a soothing shower can help.
- A five-minute warmup is essential before exercising to loosen stiff joints and minimize the risk of injury.
- Make sure to use proper posture and techniques when exercising to avoid stress to your joints or tears in your tendons.
- Start slow. Ten minutes of exercise several days a week is a good start, working up to 30 minutes or more at each session.
- If your joint starts to burn or become visibly swollen, stop exercising. Even low-impact workouts can be overdone.
- Avoid sharp or jerky movements. Low-impact workouts are designed to be fluid and responsive rather than aggressive. Cycling fast is fine, but trying to do jumps or tricks isn’t a good idea.
- While exercise is healthy for those with joint pain, overheating is not! Exercise indoors or during the cooler times of the day (morning and evening) to minimize overheating, which can trigger arthritis flare-ups.
- Icing your joints after exercising can reduce swelling and discomfort.
- Mild soreness after exercise is normal, but if it lasts more than a few hours, you may have overdone it. Take a break for a day or two, then start back slowly.
Other Ways to Minimize Summer Joint Pain
Summer heat can also contribute to joint pain in a few unexpected ways. For example, it’s easy to become dehydrated when you’re outside on a hot day. When you’re dehydrated, your body is low on electrolytes, which can cause joint inflammation. Remember to drink lots of water and sports drinks when you spend time outdoors.
It may be tempting to stay inside where it’s air-conditioned, but don’t avoid the sun! Your body craves vitamin D, and a deficiency in the “sunshine vitamin” can lead to increased joint pain and weaker bones. Try to spend at least a half-hour in the sun each day, being sure to wear sunscreen and sunglasses.
Finally, stress can also contribute to summer joint pain. Although you can’t avoid all stressors in your life, try to minimize anxiety. Don’t feel obligated to say “yes” to every invitation, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
Have a Safe & Happy Summer
Don’t let joint pain sideline you during the summer months. Exercising, paying attention to your health, and participating in safe activities helps you maintain a healthy body while protecting your joints.
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